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What to watch for in the NFC South in Week 1

The Falcons are already 0-1, but what of the other three teams?

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Falcons have already played, of course, and the less we say about that today the better. The other three teams in the South have yet to go, however, and that’s what I do want to focus on today.

Here’s your viewer’s guide to today’s game, what we might see, and what we’re hoping to see in the division today. May they all lose, somehow.

Buccaneers vs. Saints: Go Bucs

We’re all Buccaneer fans, though I’d really settle for a tie here.

The Saints are Atlanta’s biggest threat on paper, and they have the chance to jump out to an early lead over the Falcons with a win against Tampa Bay. The Saints are dealing with some injuries and a Mark Ingram suspension, but they’re still pretty loaded on offense with Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and promising rookie Tre’Quan Smith. The defense, while not necessarily stellar, is much better than it was two years ago, and can win them games on its best days.

The Bucs, meanwhile, look like a team on the cusp of firing their head coach. They’ll have to start Ryan Fitzpatrick, rookie running back Ronald Jones has been a massive disappointment early, and there are still holes you could drive a truck through on both sides of the ball. They’d be a divisional contender in the AFC, but here, they’re just fighting to stay out of the basement.

So it would be a net positive if Tampa Bay won here, because it would mean there are fault lines on this New Orleans team (god, please let it be Brees getting old) and would give a team full of former Falcons a little boost for one week.

Alas, I fully expect the Saints to blow Tampa Bay out of the water. But there’s always hope.

Panthers vs. Cowboys: Go Dallas

I don’t have a lot of faith in Dallas, which has approximately zero inspiring options at receiver and tight end, plus a defense with real question marks. But I also think this Carolina team is in some danger, even if it’s not this week.

The Cowboys will need someone to step up as a pass catcher for Dak Prescott to actually throw to, as running Ezekiel Elliott 30 times per game isn’t going to work particularly well, and Carolina has one of the beefiest fronts in the league. Defensively, they have quality players on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary, but arguably not enough of any of them. They’ll need a stellar performance to be competitive against the NFC’s best, and Carolina could be one of those teams.

But Carolina has problems, too. Their offensive line is an absolute mess thanks to attrition and injury. The receiving corps should be better with D.J. Moore, but it’s still full of so-so or unproven talents. The secondary is still a work in progress, even if the front seven is as terrifying as it has ever been. And there will always be questions about Cam Newton, fair or unfair, in particular pertaining to his accuracy. The biggest problem for Newton, of course, is that he may have very little time in the pocket this year.

Carolina should still be a good team, and this Dallas team isn’t one of the most significant challenges they’ll face this year. I think they’ll likely win this one, but their offensive line in particular bears watching, because it may be the problem that sinks their season.